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The term "Apocrypha" comes from Greek and means "hidden things". It is used in three different ways: one, for writings that were regarded as so important and precious that they must be hidden from the general public and preserved for initiates, the inner circle of believers. Two, it was applied to writings which were hidden not because they were too good, but because they were not good enough: because they were secondary, questionable, or heretical. And finally third, apocrypha was applied to those books which existed outside the Hebrew canon -- that is, books of religious materials that the Jewish people did not accept as scripture but which appeared in the Greek and Latin translations of the OT.

It is for this reason, that the books of the apocrypha have not been accepted as scripture outside of Roman Catholic circles. Within Roman Catholicism, with the exception of the First and Second Books of Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh, the Roman Church accepts these writings as part of the Old Testament and designates them as deuterocanonical, that is, added later to the canon.

Below is a list and summary of each of the books and parts of books included in the apocrypha (it is interesting to note that these books appeared in the original edition of the King James Version of the Bible):

1 ESDRAS gives a parallel account of the events recorded in Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, with one large addition called "The Debate of the Three Youths". It is an adaptation of a Persian story. In the story, Zerubbabel, the guardsman of Darius, wins a debate with two other young men over who the strongest power might be: wine, the king, or, as Zerubbabel said, "women are strongest, but truth conquers all." By winning this debate, Zerubbabel is able to remind Darius of his obligation to allow the rebuilding of the temple.

2 ESDRAS is an expansion by Christian writers of an original Jewish apocalyptic work. It consists of seven visions:

  1. The seer demands an explanation for the suffering of Zion, whose sin is not greater than that of her oppressor. The angel Uriel answers that it cannot be understood, but that the era soon to come will bring salvation.
  2. The seer wants to know why Israel, God's chosen, has been delivered up to other nations. The answer again is that it is incomprehensible to men, but good times are coming.
  3. The seer asks why the Jews do not possess the earth. The answer given is that they will inherit it in an age to come. There is also some discussion about the after life.
  4. A mourning woman recounts her woes and is thereupon transformed into a glorious city, a symbol of Jerusalem.
  5. A twelve-winged and three-headed eagle, the symbol of Rome which the interpreting angel identifies as the fourth beast of Daniel chapter seven will be supplanted by the Messiah.
  6. A man arises from the sea, annihilating an antagonistic multitude; it is an adaptation based on the Son of man vision in Daniel 7.
  7. The topic is Ezra's supposed restoration of the sacred books of the Hebrew Bible by means of a vision and the help of supernaturally guided scribes.
TOBIT is a pious short story about a righteous Hebrew of the northern kingdom of Israel taken into captivity. Tobit suffers persecution because he helps his fellow Israelites under the tyranny of Esarhaddon. He is blinded accidentally and, to his shame, his wife must support him. He prays that he may die. At the same time, a prayer is offered in Ecbatana by a young Jewish woman named Sarah who is being haunted by a demon named Asmodaeus, who has slain seven of her husbands on their wedding night. The angel Raphael is sent "to heal them both". Tobit sends his son Tobias to collect ten silver talents left in Media. Raphael takes the form of Azariah, who is hired as his traveling companion. In the Tigris a fish is caught, and its heart, liver, and gall are preserved by Tobias on Azariah's recommendation. Tobias arrives in Ecbatana and becomes engaged to Sarah, who he comes to find out is his cousin. On their wedding night, he burns the heart and liver of the fish and the stench drives the demon away to Egypt. Preceded by his dog, Tobias returns home (where his father had given up on him as lost). Tobias takes the fish gall and anoints his father's eyes, thereby restoring his sight.

JUDITH is the story of a young Jewish woman who was a widow. She is a native of Bethulia which is being besieged by the general Holofernes. She visits him in his camp, under the ruse of revealing military secrets. Once with him, she begins to entice him with her charms, until, while banqueting alone with him, she is able to cut off his head. She then returns to Bethulia with his head and is greeted by great rejoicing. The Assyrians then retreat from the city after discovering that their general had been killed. Judith and the other women of the city then rejoice with a psalm of praise before God.

ADDITIONS TO DANIEL. Several stories appear in the Greek translation of the book of Daniel that are not present in the original text. These stories are as follows:

  1. The Prayer of Azariah -- this is uttered while he is in the fiery furnace in Dan 3. (Remember, Azariah is the original Hebrew name of the man whom Nebuchadnezzar called Abednego.)
  2. The Song of the Three Holy Children -- this is sung to God's praise as the three walk around in the fire.
  3. Susanna -- Susanna is the beautiful and virtuous wife of a wealthy Jew in Babylon. Two elders of the people who lust after her come upon her while she is taking a bath and offer her the alternative of either letting them have sex with her or facing an accusation of being an adulteress.. She chooses the latter. The two men who have accused her are believed by everyone and she is condemned to death, though she protests her innocence. Daniel cries out against the injustice of this and in a second trial before him, the lie is uncovered and the woman is justified.
  4. Bel and the Dragon -- Daniel shows that the priests of Bel, and not the image of the god, devours the nightly offerings of food by scattering flour on the floor. In the morning, the footprints of the priests are plainly visible, taking the food away. The king of Babylon thereupon destroys the image. Then, Daniel destroys a mighty dragon that is worshiped by the Babylonians. He is tossed into the lions den and is preserved alive for six days. On the sixth day, the prophet Habakkuk is miraculously transported to Babylon to provide Daniel with food. On the seventh day he is released by the king.

ADDITIONS TO ESTHER. There are six additional passages in the Greek version of the book. The first deals with Mordecai's dream and his prevention of a conspiracy against the king. The second is the king's edict for the destruction of all the Jews in his realm. The third are the prayers of Esther and Mordecai. The fourth describes Esther's audience with the king. The fifth is the king's edict permitting Jewish self-defense. And the sixth includes the interpretation of Mordecai's dream.

THE PRAYER OF MANASSEH claims to be the prayer which Manasseh is recorded as praying in 2Ch 33:11-19, a prayer of repentance.

THE EPISTLE OF JEREMIAH purports to be a letter written by Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon; the letter attacks idolatry.

THE BOOK OF BARUCH claims to be the work of the friend and scribe of Jeremiah. In the setting of the Babylonian Exile of 597 BC, Baruch is depicted as addressing the exiles, setting out a confession of sins, a prayer for forgiveness and a prayer for salvation. Next, the book praises the Wisdom that may be found in the law of Moses and without which the heathen have come to nothing, but with which Israel can be saved. Finally, the book ends with a lament of Jerusalem over the exiles, followed by an exhortation to Jerusalem that she should be comforted, because her children will some day come home.

ECCLESIASTICUS. Also called the Wisdom of Joshua (or Jesus) ben-Sira (not to be confused with the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible). He was a Palestinian Jew living in Jerusalem; parts of the original Hebrew text have been uncovered, though it is best known in the Greek translation made by his grandson who furnishes chronological details in a preface. The most likely date for Ben-Sira himself is around 180 BC, since his grandson apparently migrated to Egypt in the reign of Ptolemy VII Euergetes (170-117 BC). The book falls into two parts and fits the Ancient Near Eastern literary classification called Wisdom Literature. The first half of the book gives advice for a successful life conceived in the widest sense: fear of the Lord and the observance of the Law are allied in the author's experience and teaching with practical wisdom drawn from observation and his own life. He argues that personal piety will express itself in the observance of the law in which Wisdom is revealed. In daily living, moderation will be the keynote of all aspects of life. The second half of the book concludes with a list praising the famous men from Israel's history, ending with Simon II, the high priest (c. 200 BC).

THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON is an exhortation to seek wisdom, and claims to have been composed by Solomon (it wasn't -- it dates back to only about 200 BC). Ch 1-5 declare the blessings that will come to those who seek after Wisdom. Ch 6-9 personify Wisdom as a feminine celestial being, foremost of the creatures and servants of God. Ch 10-19 then conclude by reviewing Old Testament history in the light of Wisdom: Wisdom has aided the Jewish people throughout their history, and destroyed their enemies.

1 MACCABEES covers the events between 175 and 134 BC, that is, the struggle of the Jews against Antiochus Epiphanes, the wars of the Hasmonaeans, and the rule of John Hyrcanus. The book ends with elaborate praise of John Hyrcanus, written just after his death in 103 BC. The book describes the origin of the Jewish Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication (see John 10:22 which records that Jesus celebrated this holiday) -- or as it is more commonly known, Hanukkah.

2 MACCABEES covers much of the same material as 1 Maccabees, but it does not continue the history beyond the campaigns and defeat of Nicanor. There are a number of discrepancies in chronological and numerical matters between the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees.

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